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Word Today, February 1, 2001 (Thursday of the 4th Week)

    Readings: Heb 12: 18-19. 21-24 / Mk 6: 7-13

It is significant that when Jesus sent off his disciples, he specifically instructed them to "take nothing for the journey except a staff no bread, no haversack, no coppers for their purses." 

The apostolate must rely on some human means.  Jesus asked them to bring a staff, to make use of sandals, and to have a tunic (but not a spare one).  But even more, the apostle should rely on God's providence.  He must be detached from material things.  If not, rather than being a help, material things can become a hindrance to the apostle's  freedom of action and movement.

Word Today, February 2, 2001 (Presentation of the Lord, Feast)

    Readings: Mal 3: 1-4 or Heb 2: 14-18 / Lk 2: 22-32 or Lk 2: 22-40

Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  We commemorate the Holy Family's fulfillment of the Jewish rite to offer to God the first born son.  It is traditional in many places to bless candles and have a procession on this day.

In the last few years, some people have been spreading an alleged prophecy that there will be "three days of darkness" when the only light that we will have will come from blessed candles.  Some people may have been taken in by this assertion and so they keep a store of blessed candles "just in case".  While the custom of blessing candles, having a procession with them and even keeping some in the house are pious and worthy practices, the threat of having three days of darkness is not a credible one.  It has no basis in the teachings of the Church and the alleged private revelations on which it is based is very questionable.  There is a need for conversion, but God does not ask for conversion on the basis of irrational fears.

Word Today, February 3, 2001 (Saturday of the 4th Week, St. Blase or St. Ansgar)

    Readings: Heb 13: 15-17 / Mk 6: 30-34

One of the saints commemorated today is St. Blase, bishop and martyr.  He is popularly invoked for ailments of the throat.  There is a story that on his way to martyrdom he miraculously cured a boy who had a fishbone stuck in his throat.  Whether the story is true or not does not really matter.  We can always ask saints to intercede for us in relation to particular needs. 

There is a rite of blessing of throats with two crossed candles, asking St. Blase to intercede that God may deliver us from "ailments of the throat and from all other evil."  While applying all the means that God has given us, we should also pray for our health. 

Word Today, February 4, 2001 (Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

    Readings: Is 6: 1-8 / 1 Cor 15: 1-11 / Lk 5: 1-11

They left everything and followed him."  This is how the gospel today describes the decision of Simon, James and John, after the miraculous catch of fish.  The invitation of Jesus was to become "fishers" of men rather than fishers of fish.

The apostolate requires commitment.  The commitment God wants is a "total" one, not something half-hearted and calculating.  No other ideal is worth such total commitment, because we must love God "above all things, with all our heart, all our mind, and all our strength."  Are we ready for this?

Word Today, February 5, 2001 (Monday of the 5th Week in Ordinary Time)

    Readings: Gen 1: 1-19 / Mk 6: 53-56

"And wherever he went, to villages, towns or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplace and begged him to let them touch just the fringe of his cloak.  And all those who touched him were cured."  This emphasis on the sensible contact with Jesus can help us reflect on the importance of pilgrimage sites.  During the Jubilee Year, the Pope spoke of the fact that there are special times of grace (kairos), as there are also special spaces or places of grace, like those places where Christ himself walked on, or where perhaps the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared or manifested her motherly care.

Making a pilgrimage to such places helps us to see our life as a pilgrimage or a journey.  We are all moving in time, towards our final destination, which is heaven.  But to reach our destination, we must continually stay in the right direction.  We should not lose our bearings, but go towards God.

Word Today, February 6, 2001 (Tuesday of the 5th Week)

    Readings: Gen 1: 20-2: 4 12: 1-4 / Mk 7: 1-13

In the gospel today Jesus condemned once again the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  At the end of his harangue, Jesus summarizes what is wrong with their way of acting: "You nullify the word of God through the tradition you have handed on."

In this verse, Jesus condemns the human traditions introduced by the Pharisees, in violation of the word of God.  Some people use this to denounce the Catholic Church's valuing of traditions.  This point needs clarification.  What the Church values as a source of revelation is "Sacred Tradition", that is to say, the word of God (teachings of Christ and the apostles) as passed on to us not in written form.  Sacred Tradition is not opposed to Sacred Scripture, they are complementary.  In fact we would not know what is the authentic Sacred Scripture if it were not for the Sacred Tradition kept by the Church.  We should note, however, that not everything "traditional" forms part of the Church's Tradition.  Discernment of what is and what is not deposit of faith is the competence of the successors of the Apostles.

Word Today, February 7, 2001 (Wednesday of the 5th Week)

    Readings: Gen 2: 4-9. 15-17 / Mk 7: 14-23

The gospel reading today emphasizes the importance of "what comes from within."  The Pharisees were so particular about the type of food they ate. But Jesus clarified that it is not what we eat that can defile us but rather it is what comes out of us.  He was talking on a different plane.  He was talking about what comes out of "the heart of man."  It is from our heart that evil comes -- "evil thoughts, adulteries, immorality, murders, thefts, etc."

We should remember that any external sin must first involve an internal act.  Hence if we are careful about our thoughts and inner desires, we can avoid many faults.  Let us be honest and sincere with ourselves in order to recognize those temptations that come to our mind.  It is easier to fight them at that stage than later on when the resolve to commit sin has already matured in our heart.

Word Today, February 8, 2001 (Thursday of the 5th Week)

    Readings: Gen 2: 18-25 / Mk 7: 24-30

The Canaanite woman in today's gospel reading can be considered a model of how our prayers should be.  Jesus Christ at first refused to perform the miracle because it was not within the apparent plan of God.  Christ had to minister preferentially to the Hebrews and not to other nations.  Christ even seemed positively to discourage the woman by saying "It is not fair to take the children's bread and to cast it to the dogs."  But this did not stop the woman.  She extended the argument and retorted, "Even the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs."

She was persistent.  This persistence came from her genuine concern for her daughter's well being.  It also revealed her faith and trust in the power of Jesus.  We should not stop praying to God for good things, even if our petitions seem to get a negative answer from Christ.  Continue to pray with faith.  God always answers our prayers.

Word Today, February 9, 2001 (Friday of the 5th Week)

    Readings: Gen 3: 1-8 / Mk 7: 31-37

Christ cured a deaf-mute.  Experts say that most deaf-mutes are primarily deaf.  And since they cannot hear others, maybe not even themselves, they end up unable to speak.  In the case of this miracle, as soon as the man was cured of deafness and the "tongue was loosed", he "began to speak correctly."

Here we can see another miracle how that man who had never spoken before can now speak "correctly".  This fits in very well with the comment made by the people about the miracles of Christ.  "He has done all things well."  When Christ did things, whether ordinary or especial things, he did them "well".  We can expect no less from the One who is "perfect man" and the model of what all men and women should be.

Word Today, February 10, 2001 (Saturday of the 5th Week)

    Readings: Gen 3: 9-24 / Mk 8: 1-10

The gospel today is about the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. From seven loaves and a few fishes Jesus was able to feed a crowd of four thousand people and even had seven baskets of leftovers.  This was an authentic miracle.  Some people, with a rationalist bias, want to reduce this incident to a merely moral miracle.  They allege that in fact, those people had their provision of bread, and the miracle was how they became generous enough to share their provisions with the others.  This is an unfounded assertion.

One lesson we can draw from here is the need to cooperate with the work of God.  Our poor efforts are very little in comparison with the goals of apostolate that God expects.  But however slight our help may be, God wants to count on our cooperation, just as he counted on the few loaves, the fishes and the effort of the apostles to organize the crowd.

Word Today, February 11, 2001 (Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

    Readings: Jer 17: 5-8 / 1 Cor 15: 12. 16-20 / Lk 6: 17. 20-26

The gospel today is about the 8 Beatitudes those norms and standards of living that Christ proposed to all his followers.  It is a reminder that the Christian life cannot be seen as a negative and minimalist program of life.

In his Apostolic Letter entitled "At the Beginning of the New Millennium", the Pope pointed out that the starting point of all pastoral plans and activities should be the "universal call to holiness" that Vatican II proclaimed.  He then said that for a baptized Christian, "it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity." (No. 30)  One way of heeding the Pope's call is to seriously put into practice each one of the beatitudes.

Word Today, February 12, 2001 (Monday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time)

    Readings: Gen 4: 1-5.25 / Mk 8: 11-13

The gospel today shows the lack of faith of the Pharisees.  They conditioned their acceptance of Christ to receiving a sign from heaven.  Christ refused because signs or the so-called "motives of credibility" do not generate faith.  Signs can confirm our faith, they can strengthen our faith, but they do not give rise to it.  Faith is a gift of God, it is grace.  It can only be received in humility and obedience.

Applying this to our faith in Christ, the Pope said, "We cannot come to the fulness of contemplation of the Lord's face by our own efforts alone, but by allowing grace to take us by the hand."  And the proper setting for the development and growth of our faith in Christ is "the experience of silence and prayer." (NMA, no. 30)

Word Today, February 13, 2001 (Tuesday of the 6th Week)

    Readings: Gen 6: 5-8; 7: 1-7. 10 / Mk 8: 14-16

In the gospel today, Jesus warned his apostles against "the yeast (or leaven) of the Pharisees and of the yeast of Herod."  They did not understand what Jesus meant.  In another passage of the gospel, Jesus compared his followers to yeast or leaven.  A little bit of yeast is enough to leaven the whole mass of dough.  This can refer to the influence that a Christian should exert in his surroundings.  One upright, honest and holy man can mean a lot.

Just as there is the good yeast of Christ's followers, there is the bad yeast, of those who oppose Christ.  That can be the meaning of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.  It can refer to the bad influence that one person can exert in his surroundings, especially when there is hypocrisy (evil trying to appear good) involved.  We must be careful with the mere appearance of goodness.  We must strive to be sincere in our effort to exert a good influence in our surroundings.

Word Today, February 14, 2001 (Wednesday of the 6th Week)

    Readings: Gen 8: 6-13. 20-22 / Mk 8: 22-26

The religious commemoration today is that of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, known for the evangelization of Eastern Europe and for the invention of the "Cyrillic" alphabet, which is used in Russia and some other Eastern European countries.  However, most people recognize this date as Valentine's day, the day of lovers.  Yet Valentine's day also has a religious origin.  It is named after St. Valentine, a martyred priest or bishop, who is commemorated today in some parts of the world. St. Valentine's connection with lovers is not so clear.

On this day of lovers, we should remember not to confuse affection or infatuation with love. The test of love is commitment and sacrifice.  That is why pre-marital sex is not truly a manifestation of love.  There is a movement among young people that is based on this truth.  It is named after an old hit song entitled "True love waits."

Word Today, February 15, 2001 (Thursday of the 6th Week)

    Readings: Gen 9: 1-13 / Mk 8: 27-33

Peter received very harsh words of reproach from Jesus.  "Get behind me, Satan!  Because the way you think is not God's way, but man's."  Yet just before that, Jesus had conferred the primacy on Peter.  It is perhaps precisely because of Peter's important position that Jesus saw the need to be strong in his reprimand.  The gospel says that Jesus' words were prompted by the fact that he saw the other disciples.  Had Jesus not acted promptly and strongly, the other disciples might have wavered in their faith.

Those in positions of authority and responsibility should also be ready to receive strong corrections.  They should appreciate such corrections, because their actions have repercussions on other people.

Word Today, February 16, 2001 (Friday of the 6th Week)

    Readings: Gen 11: 1-9 / Mk 8: 34-9: 1

"What gain, then, is it for a man to win the whole world and ruin his soul?"  These words of Jesus remind us of what really matters holiness and salvation.

Let us not allow the cares of this world to deflect us from the most important goal. Everything else will pass away.  Man's spirit, which is immortal, will enter into eternity.

Word Today, February 17, 2001 (Saturday of the 6th Week)

    Readings: Heb 11: 1-7 / Mk 9: 2-13

During the Transfiguration of Christ, which is described in today's gospel, God the father said, "This is my Son, the Beloved.  Listen to him."

At the end of the Great Jubilee Year, the Pope wrote an apostolic letter where he said that the core legacy of the Jubilee Year is the "contemplation of the face of Christ."  Indeed, to go to God, we must look at the humanity of Christ.  Look at his face and listen to his words.  Then we shall have the energy and the light to live a Christian life.

Word Today, February 18, 2001 (Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time)

    Readings: 1 Sam 26: 2. 7-9. 12-13. 22-23 / 1 Cor 15: 45-49 / Lk 6: 27-38

The requirements of Christian charity go way beyond our human sensibilities.  "If you love those who love you, what thanks can you expect?  Even sinners love those who love them."

Quite often, we mistake Christian charity for sentimentality or for "feeling good".  Because of this, many people are unable to practice true charity.  We must strive to love our neighbor with the love of God.  This means readiness to forget ourselves, to suffer injuries from them, and strive to forgive and serve. 

Word Today, February 19, 2001 (Monday of the 7th Week in Ordinary Time)

    Readings: Ecclus 1: 1-10 / Mk 9:14-29

Today's reading presents the miracle of the boy possessed by a dumb devil.  The scene has been depicted in a masterpiece now located at the Sistine Chapel, painted by the great artist Raphael.  There seemed to be a lack of faith, and so the cure was not forthcoming.  But we can learn from the reaction of the boy's father.  He cried, "I do have faith.  Help the little faith I have!"

How often we may find ourselves in a similar situation.  We do believe.  But we realize that we need to have more trust and confidence in God.  Perhaps we are weighed down by problems.  We know we are children of God, but that fact doesn't seem to sink in enough.  Let us humbly repeat what that man said.  Lord, please increase my faith!

Word Today, February 20, 2001 (Tuesday of the 7th Week)

    Readings: Ecclus 2: 1-13 / Mk 9: 30-37

"If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all."  These words of Jesus were addressed to the apostles who were getting caught in their petty ambitions and falling into envy among themselves.

Envy is quite often the root of discords among groups and families.  It can creep into the most cordial and warm relationships, ending up destroying friendships.  Let us avoid envy by applying Christ's words.  They are words that admonish us to strive to be humble, not to seek to be higher than others.  We can foster such humility by striving sincerely to serve, to see ourselves as "servants" of others.

Word Today, February 21, 2001 (Wednesday of the 7th Week)

    Readings: Ecclus 4: 12-22 / Mk 9: 38-40

"He who is not against you is for you."  With these words, Jesus encouraged his followers to have an open attitude towards everyone.

There are many "families" within the Church.  They have different gifts, characteristics and charisms.  While following the charism that God wants for us, we should be open to the gifts that other groups or persons may have.  We should sincerely rejoice when other Christian communities progress in truth and charity.

Word Today, February 22, 2001 (The Chair of St. Peter, Thursday of the 7th Week)

    Readings: 1 Pt 5: 1-4 / Mt 16: 13-19

"You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church."  Today we celebrate the feast of the "chair" of St. Peter.  We are probably familiar with the so-called "professorial chair."  The Latin term for this kind of chair is "cathedra".  It is where the word "cathedral" comes from.  The cathedral is the church where the bishop has his "chair".  Chair here therefore connotes a symbol of authority because of the position held by the one sitting on it.

Today then we should remember the authority of St. Peter.  It is an authority that came from Christ.  This authority is passed on to the successor of St. Peter, who is the Pope.  Together with authority is the special assistance of Christ.  "The gates of hell can never hold out against it."  We must have complete confidence in the Pope and submit to his authority in everything that has to do with the saving and liberating mission of the Church.

Word Today, February 23, 2001 (Friday of the 7th Week)

    Readings: Ecclus 6: 5-17 / Mk 10: 1-12

The gospel today contains the biblical reason for the indissolubility of marriage and why divorce is wrong. Referring to married couples, Jesus said, "They are no longer two but one body.  Therefore let no one separate what God has joined."

On the strength of the marriage bond depends the stability of the family.  The Church, when she opposes divorce and remarriage, wishes to strengthen the family.  Persons can only develop adequately within the warmth and security provided by a stable family.  If the possibility of irrevocably breaking it up is introduced, many people will suffer-- first the children, then the spouses themselves.

Word Today, February 24, 2001 (Saturday of the 7th Week)

    Readings: Ecclus 17: 1-13 / Mk 10: 13-16

In the gospel today Jesus said, "I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."  Many people have a devotion to St. Therese of the Child Jesus.  She reminded the modern world of the importance of "spiritual childhood". 

We cannot approach God with the sense of self-sufficiency of a grown up person.  The truth is that before God, who knows all and can do all things, we must be aware of our nothingness.  Everything we have is from him.  But he loves us as a doting father loves his children.  Only by becoming simple and having a sense of dependence on God can we truly get closer to him. 

Word Today, February 25, 2001 (Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

    Readings: Ecclus 27: 5-8 / 1 Cor 15: 54-58 / Lk 6: 39-45

"Hypocrite, first cast out the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to cast out the speck from your brother's eye."  We are all too familiar with the phenomenon of people complaining and criticizing others, yet they themselves fall into the same or even worse mistakes.  They are not aware that they are somehow blind or prejudiced in their evaluations.  This lack of awareness comes from lack of self-knowledge.

St. Augustin pointed out that one way to diminish the defects that we see in others is to try to remove that defect first in ourselves.  If we do so, we will no longer exaggerate the perceived shortcomings we see in other people, because we will no longer see them through the magnifying glass of our own defects.

Word Today, February 26, 2001 (Monday of the 8th Week in Ordinary Time)

    Readings: Ecclus 17: 20-28 / Mk 10: 17-27

The rich young man who went away sad.  That is the image that the gospel today presents to us.  It is an image that the Holy Father has often presented to the young people that he would meet on different occasions.  That man could have been one of the apostles and given his life a much greater transcendence. Instead, he was somehow "imprisoned" by his possessions, unable to pursue higher goals because of his attachment to them.

Young people are capable of great generosity.  They have abundant energy seeking direction and purpose.  Yet many young people are also being hindered by the environment of materialism.  One of the most liberating experiences for the young is the exposure to poverty and need.  When they help others (e.g., through visits to the poor and the sick), they see beyond the materialistic values surrounding them and they become more capable of being generous in the service of God.

Word Today, February 27, 2001 (Tuesday of the 8th Week)

    Readings: Ecclus 35: 1-15 / Mk 10: 28-31

There is a mistaken notion going around that if we opt to serve God and seek the happiness of heaven, then we must be resigned to being unhappy on earth.  This is not helped at all by some people who purport to serve God on earth, but go about it grudgingly and sadly.  The gospel today belies that notion.  Jesus told the apostles that those who have left all for the sake of the gospel will receive a hundredfold of what they have given up, "not without persecution, now in the present time" together with heaven later on.

The truth of the matter is that the happiest people, even on earth, are those who have opted to serve God generously.  St. Francis, who lived a radical poverty, felt like the owner of the entire universe.  Those persons who decide to live a chaste and pure life for love of God are happier than the slaves of lust are.  God cannot be outdone in generosity.  Like a good father, he wants his children to be truly happy in every way.  But he does not want us spoiled, so we must also count on difficulties.  Yet difficulties are compatible with deep joy and contentment. 

Word Today, February 28, 2001 (Ash Wednesday)

    Readings: Joel 2:12-18 / 2Cor 5:20-6:2 / Mt 6:1-6.16-18

Today we begin the liturgical season of Lent.  Lent is a forty-day preparation for Easter, and the emphasis is on our conversion through the spirit of penance.  It is therefore very appropriate that Ash Wednesday be a day of fasting and abstinence.  As a reminder, with the exception of those who are sick or are somehow legitimately prevented from doing so, all who are fourteen years and above are bound by abstinence (avoiding to eat meat).  All those between eighteen and sixty years old are bound by fasting (usually fulfilled by eating only one full meal a day).

There are two possible formulas in the distribution of the ashes.  One is from Mk 1:15, "Turn away from sin and believe the gospel."  The other one has reference to Gen 3:19, "Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you will return."  They are complementary.  If we remember what we are, it is easier for us to turn away from sin.

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